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YANKEES 9, RED SOX 2

Boomerang

Wells struggles in Red Sox debut, can't beat Yankees in return to the Stadium

NEW YORK -- This felt like October, a chilling 43 degrees at gametime, bunting lining the facing of the second and third decks at Yankee Stadium, flashbulbs illuminating the 54,818 fans, most of whom, given the cold, came wearing hues appropriate for a funeral.

This, however, was a resurrection. The Yankees, buried in unprecedented fashion in four games last October, reintroduced themselves to the Red Sox in forceful fashion, pounding the defending World Series champions, 9-2.

David Wells, given the ball for his experience (86 career appearances) and dominance (2.94 ERA as a visitor) in the house that his idol, Babe Ruth, built, lasted just 4 1/3 innings. The 41-year-old was knocked around for 10 hits -- matching his season high with San Diego last season -- twice hit Jason Giambi, and walked one. Boomer threw 80 pitches, 52 for strikes, but too many in far-too-hittable locations. Fellow 41-year-old Randy Johnson, meanwhile, looked unaffected by age or expectation. Combining his 2005 base pay and the money the Yankees tossed into the deal with the Diamondbacks, Johnson will cost George Steinbrenner about $900,000 per start this season. If one man can be worth that much, Johnson was, for reasserting Yankee dominance for one night.

"A loss was imminent," Johnny Damon said. "Everyone's glad this first game is behind us. We know we didn't play well. But we can relax. There was so much hype. A lot of pressure is off our team."

Damon and his top-of-the-order teammates managed next to nothing all night. Damon, Edgar Renteria, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz combined to go 1-for-16 with six strikeouts, all of the whiffs coming against Johnson.

Hideki Matsui, "Mr. Clutch," according to Damon, provided the game's two foremost turning points. He saved two runs with some spectacular mid-air retrieval work in the second inning. In a scoreless game, with Ortiz on second, Matsui went into Row 1 of the seats to take away what would have been a two-run homer for Kevin Millar.

Then, in the eighth, Matsui lost a Matt Mantei pitch over the wall in right-center field, turning a 6-1 game into an 8-1 Yankee lead. Matsui, Millar acknowledged, has come to be the player the Sox expect to do something special more than any other Yankee.

"The ball he hit tonight, if it wasn't windy, that might have hit the last row [of the bleachers],"

Damon said. The Sox meanwhile, didn't help themselves by playing poor defense. Damon allowed Alex Rodriguez's single to bounce off his chest in the sixth inning, scoring Derek Jeter and giving Rodriguez second base. Jeter would have scored anyhow, so Rodriguez was credited with a single and an RBI. Yet Ruben Sierra doubled two batters later, scoring Rodriguez.

John Halama then made an error in the eighth, botching a Jeter comebacker to the mound with the bases loaded for the Yankees' last run.

Right about now you might be thinking: Halama on the mound on Opening Night, not what the Sox had in mind. Terry Francona said before the game that he actually hoped to go to the bullpen, given that no one had pitched since Friday and there's an offday today. He wound up using Mike Myers, Blaine Neal, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, Mantei, and Halama. Only Keith Foulke was spared.

Neal ( 1/3 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 2 runs, 1 earned) had a difficult time in his American League debut, while Mantei had no command ( 2/3 IP, 1 hit, 3 walks, 3 runs, 2 earned runs, 1 home run).

Myers, obtained last week in a deal with St. Louis, was the bullpen star. He entered for Wells with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth and got Tony Womack to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

Never had two guys with perfect games on their resumes opposed each other on Opening Day, and only once before had two pitchers 40 or older faced off in a season opener. Last night, Johnson began the season as the more commanding presence.

Johnson went just six innings and struck out only six, solid if unspectacular given that he led all of baseball with 290 strikeouts last season. Still, he whiffed Renteria, the second hitter of the game, with a fastball on the inner corner, then froze Ramirez with a 95-mile-per-hour carbon copy. Five of his six strikeouts were looking. Damon was the expectation, offering at and missing a slider in the fifth.

Though Wells has pitched well in his career against the Yankees (16-8 coming in vs. New York at the Stadium) he has been hit hard by this collection of Yankees. They began the night having hit at a .306 clip vs. Boomer.

Wells actually had a lead, 1-0, in the second, when new Sox outfielder Jay Payton, used in place of the lefthanded-hitting Trot Nixon, singled in Ortiz, who'd led off the inning with a double. The Sox managed three hits in the inning, matching the total number the club managed off the Big Unit that last time it faced him, in the 1998 home opener.

The Yanks tagged Wells for three of those runs in the third. Jeter doubled, Gary Sheffield doubled, scoring Jeter. Sierra grounded out, then Matsui singled, scoring Sheffield. Jorge Posada singled, putting two on, then Wells went 0-2 on Jason Giambi.

Giambi made no attempt to move out of the way of the inside pitch.

"It was probably over the plate," Wells said. "He didn't move."

The ball hit Giambi's right triceps, presumably slightly smaller this season, but still big enough to get a piece of the ball.

Wells, facing Bernie Williams, began and stopped his motion. Second base umpire Mike DiMuro immediately signaled the balk, making it 4-1 Yankees.

"Wow," Wells could be seen saying on the mound.

"I was stepping back and I thought I saw a different finger down," Wells said. "I was starting my windup when I shouldn't have. You have to give up the free run."

The Sox must now sit on this loss for a full day, until tomorrow at 1:05.

"Don't jump off yet, boys and girls," Millar said. "The Sox will be back on Tuesday."

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